Google TV TCL 6-Series review: a great mini LED TV at a good price
TCL’s first Google TVs were supposed to be a triumphant flex for the second most popular TV maker in the United States. Long known for its easy-to-use Roku TVs, TCL has tried to drive home the message that it’s taking a platform-agnostic approach and will offer bundles with software from Roku or Google. (The company has already launched many Android TV models internationally.)
So with the latest update to its Series 6 – model name R646 – TCL has decided to combine its best TV hardware with the Google TV experience that debuted on the Chromecast 2020. The Series 6 features the Mini LED technology, truly impressive peak brightness levels, vivid HDR colors and even includes built-in mics for hands-free Google Assistant voice commands. I reviewed the 65-inch model at $1,299. But regardless of size, the R646 improves on the older Roku TV edition of the Series 6 by upgrading two of the four HDMI ports to support full-fledged 4K gaming at 120Hz; the Roku model was limited to 1440p at that frame rate.
TCL had all the ingredients for a must-have TV, but it failed in the execution – at least at first. Soon after the R646 began shipping, buyers complained of slow software and buggy performance that often caused the TV to freeze or reset. The volume of complaints grew so high that Best Buy briefly halted sales of Google Series 6 and 5 TVs until TCL could fix things with software updates. To the company’s credit, this happened fairly quickly, and TCL continued to release new updates to fix lingering bugs. (This notice was issued when the TV’s current firmware was v97 and during the January security update.)
I’ve had the Google TV series 6 for over a month now. During my first weeks of testing, the software was clearly too raw and in bad shape. The Google TV home screen and content recommendation carousels generally worked as expected, but viewing and navigating the TV settings menus was noticeably slow. Sometimes the TV would randomly reset – or the screen wouldn’t turn on after the first few times I pressed the power button on the remote. My housemates reported frequent crashes of apps like HBO Max, and the Dolby Vision badge sometimes popping up repeatedly while watching a single movie or show. In short, TCL’s first Google TVs came with unfinished, undercooked software. Their release should have been pushed back a few weeks or months until the user experience was more stable, consistent, and with fewer lags.
Fortunately, the software situation on this TV is much better now. And when watching movies and TV shows, the R646 delivers phenomenal picture quality that would make you think it costs hundreds more. The overall brightness of the set blows my LG CX OLED out of the water; PCMag peak brightness measured at just under 1,200 nits. Even in the sunniest living rooms, the image of the TCL would be able to break through and remain totally visible. This is aided by the panel’s semi-gloss finish, which does a commendable job of reducing glare.
TCL supports HDR10, Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and HLG for HDR formats, which check all the boxes you might ask. Watching The Matrix Resurrections on HBO Max was thrilling, and it’s TVs like this that allow me to maintain a 4K Blu-ray collection with recent standouts like Dunes.
The speakers are just adequate, which can be said of most TVs, with the exception of the high-end Sony and Samsung models which offer premium built-in sound. If you’re buying a TV in this price bracket, chances are you’ll be pairing a soundbar or speaker system with it. The TV supports Wi-Fi 6 and also has an Ethernet jack for wired connectivity. The initial setup is much easier if you have the Google Home app on your phone; you can operate the TV there instead of clicking through a ton of on-screen prompts.
I was impressed with how little bloom I noticed (when viewing normal content not test patterns) while local contrast was set to “high” and the Mini LED backlight was working the hardest. Contrast and black levels weren’t quite OLED level, but the difference is diminishing as companies continue to iterate on their Mini LED algorithms and picture performance. TCL includes a number of “auto” options in the picture settings – auto brightness, auto color balance, etc. – but I always leave them off for a consistent experience. Same goes for the Dynamic Tone Mapping toggle, which can make HDR and gaming even brighter by constantly optimizing the picture, but I prefer to leave that off and let content pass through accurately without the TV adjusting. constantly levels on the fly.
But some bugs and quirks still persist. Occasionally, the R646 resets its picture settings to “low power” mode, which makes me go into options and put everything back together. TCL tells me that it believes this “previously infrequent” bug has been squashed after a recent update. What’s more annoying is that by default the TV will display Dolby Vision content in “Dolby Vision IQ” mode with a slight soap opera effect that cannot be disabled unless you toggle the picture mode to “Dolby Vision Bright” or “Dolby Vision Dark”, which unlocks more granular settings for motion.
The toggles for VRR and auto low latency mode are buried too deep in the menu tree. When TV rivals like Samsung and LG include “game bars” that put key information front and center, TCL is definitely a little behind here. Also disconcerting: the remote lacks a button to change inputs; this can only be done by pulling up the quick panel, which Is it that have a dedicated button and then scroll through the entries. I would have much preferred an input shortcut on the remote instead of the branded button for TCL’s Home app which I will never, ever use.
Some R646 owners on AHV Forum have noticed an infrequent video slowdown or “slow motion” effect with the TV; I think I briefly encountered this while watching Sling TV one night and Peacock another, but it’s hard to be sure when talking about streaming services. This only happened once or twice and fixed itself after about 15 seconds. I hope this is another thing TCL can fix with firmware.
With a few updates under the TV’s belt, the Google TV software experience is also now where it should be. The interface does a great job with personalized recommendations – even if Netflix doesn’t want to participate – and the built-in microphone array picked up my “Hey Google” voice requests without any difficulty, even when the TV was playing something. You can mute the mics with a physical switch if you’re not a fan of the concept. Google’s operating system offers just about every streaming app you could want, and also comes with Google Cast built-in. On the other hand, TCL’s Roku TVs support Apple’s AirPlay 2 and HomeKit protocols, but Google TV models do not.
I tested the R646 with my Xbox Series X and PS5, and it’s one hell of a gaming TV. Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves collection looks stunning in its 4K fidelity mode – ditto for Forza Horizon 5. Infinite Halo and Unexplored both played very well in their 120Hz modes. Some owners have wondered if TCL could scale or halve the resolution of 4K games when running at 120Hz, but the company insists the Google TV 6-Series maintains full 4K output when that’s what. it receives from a game. This is a key differentiator from the Roku TV edition, which only supports 1440p at 120Hz.
VRR seemed to work as expected on the Series X, helping to smooth gameplay and avoid any noticeable frame rate stutter. But as I mentioned earlier, the TV settings can get a little confusing in game mode: the local dimming option can sometimes disappear or show as “off” when VRR is on, but it’s in is always on and stays at any setting. previously. Asked about this, TCL spokeswoman Rachelle Parks said:
TCL is constantly evaluating the usability of TVs, including how to enable advanced controls for the many powerful features available on high performance TVs such as the Series 6. Although we believe the Series 6 with Google TV offers the right balance between ease of use and advanced customization, together with our game console and graphics card partners who offer VRR games, we are exploring ways to make gaming even easier for our customers. And yes, local dimming is available with the game mode setting.
Ultimately, TCL’s Google TV Series 6 is among the best 4K TVs you’ll find in its price range and the type of package that will satisfy owners for years to come. The company made an unfortunate mistake by shipping the R646 with half-baked software, but managed to correct course in respectable time. The Google TV 6 Series is technically superior to its older sibling Roku in many ways – most importantly with that proper support for 4K 120Hz gaming – and it’s an impressive showcase of TCL’s Mini LED advancements. If you want a bright, bold TV and can find a deal, there’s no reason to hesitate. I wasn’t sure I could say that back when the software was slow and bug-prone, but I have no reservations now.
Photograph by Chris Welch/The Verge